Scientists emphasize recognizing animal consciousness in welfare regulations

Scientists emphasize recognizing animal consciousness in welfare considerations

Researchers want the consciousness of animals to be considered when making animal welfare regulations. Over the last ten years, our understanding of how animals think and behave has improved dramatically. Researchers discovered that many animals have complex thoughts and feelings.

This evidence has sparked new conversations about whether animals are conscious. It has made scientists and philosophers think differently about how humans should treat animals.

The conference “The Emerging Science of Animal Consciousness” at New York University brought together top experts from various fields. They discussed the newest findings and their significance for animal treatment.

One of the main results of the conference, which was held on Friday, was the creation of The New York Declaration on Animal Consciousness.

The New York Declaration on Animal Consciousness acknowledges strong scientific support for the conscious experiences of mammals and birds. It also presents a realistic possibility of consciousness in all vertebrates—including reptiles, amphibians, and fishes—and many invertebrates, such as crustaceans and insects. 

Scientists backing the declaration emphasize that ignoring the potential for consciousness in these animals when making decisions that affect them is irresponsible. They urge that their welfare be considered based on this evidence. Policy makers consider the well-being of these animals when making decisions.

“If there is a realistic possibility that an animal is conscious—for instance, that octopuses can suffer—then this possibility merits consideration in policy contexts—for instance, in decisions about whether to support octopus farming,” the declaration states.

Octopuses show pain avoidance 

Using a method called the “conditioned place preference” test, a 2021 study by Robyn Crook showed that octopuses avoid places where they felt pain from an acid injection. They preferred places where they received pain-relieving lidocaine, suggesting they experience pain similarly to rats and humans.

Cuttlefish can remember things

A 2020 study found that cuttlefish can remember the specifics of an event, like whether they saw or smelled food, even after several hours. This “source memory” ability helps them recall and distinguish past experiences.

Cleaner wrasse fish respond to mirrors

Between 2019 and 2023, studies showed cleaner wrasse fish could pass a mirror test designed to measure self-awareness. The fish reacted to their reflection, eventually trying to remove marks they saw on themselves in the mirror.

Bees exhibit playful behavior

A 2022 study observed bumblebees rolling balls for fun, exhibiting typical play behaviors: the activity was rewarding, repetitive, varied, and more frequent in relaxed states, indicating it wasn’t driven by practical needs.

The declaration is open for more signatures from experts.

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